Published 1 year ago.
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Image: Canidae is one of 5 food brands to recently sign the Pet Sustainability Coalition’s Packaging Pledge | Canidae
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While flexible packaging plays an important role in keeping food fresher longer, it has long been difficult to recycle. Designing more recyclable flexible packaging from the start and determining a better end-of-life process for current materials is a vital step in reducing food waste.
Around one-third of
global food production is wasted every year, along with the resources used to
produce it. One way to cut waste? Flexible packaging, which can help keep food fresh longer and in more diverse conditions.
These materials currently make up around 15 percent of the packaging industry
and are growing more prevalent every year.
Although flexible packaging plays an important role in reducing food waste, it
is also overlooked as a valued good — as flexible packaging materials have long
been difficult to
Ashley Leidolf — senior
marketing manager of value chain engagement, sustainable packaging and advanced
recycling at Dow — knows that limiting food waste is
imperative in creating more sustainable food systems; but so is designing more
recyclable flexible packaging from the start and determining a better
end-of-life process for current materials.
After more than a decade spearheading sustainability initiatives for brands —
including SunChips’ compostable bags, ultra-lightweight Gatorade
bottles, McDonald’s recyclable packaging and more — Leidolf has ample
experience helping food brands limit packaging waste while maintaining material
performance and quality. In this Q&A, she shares why collaborative partnerships
are essential for developing sustainable solutions to some of the food
industry’s most pressing problems and for helping brands embrace innovative
AL: Our value chain engagement team is focused on collaboration on
sustainable packaging throughout the value chain. We look at organizations
beyond direct customer selling relationships — we’re focused downstream,
including the whole value chain. We ask ourselves, “What are brand owners’,
retailers’ and other partners’ unmet needs in sustainable packaging?” Then we
try to connect the dots along the chain to meet those needs and collaborate with
multiple parties to accelerate sustainable packaging developments.
We also represent Dow in many external industry organizations — for example, I
serve on the Sustainable Packaging
committee. We’re constantly reviewing how we can leverage different
relationships — whether with brand owners, retailers, customers, industry
organizations, designers, co-packers or academics — to accelerate sustainable
Essentially, my work involves a lot of thinking about how we can build
relationships along the value chain to understand the needs of brand owners and
retailers, then translate that back to Dow to help develop and launch improved
AL: From a very young age, I have memories of my dad being super into
recycling — back before plastic waste issues came into focus around the world.
I grew up in rural Indiana, where there was no curbside recycling (and still
isn’t!). We had boxes in the garage for every different type of plastic, can,
bottle and paper. And when I was in elementary school, my dad would even collect
bags and take them to the grocery store to drop off for recycling. Now, a huge
part of my job is working with brands to help their packaging qualify for store
I think my dad just had the sense of needing to do the right thing and take
responsibility for what we were consuming. And if there was an option to help
make something better, he wasn’t going to take the easy way out.
AL: I would say that recycling does work, and there are many real-world
examples to show it. Recycled material is in high demand. But we still have a
lot of work ahead of us to make recycling as impactful as it can be.
Consumer education is a big gap in the circular economy. People are
about the rules of what they can recycle and where. We also still have a long
way to go toward accessibility. The Recycling Partnership’s 2020 State of Curbside Recycling Report
notes that only half of Americans have automatic access to curbside recycling,
meaning recycling containers are provided to eligible households without
community members needing to opt in or take other proactive steps. If consumers
can’t easily recycle from their homes, how can we expect them to locate store
drop-offs for harder-to-recycle materials? It’s not a matter of recycling not
working — it's a lack of education and accessibility that limits recycling from
having a greater impact.
Fortunately, many companies and industry groups, such as The Recycling
Partnership and Closed Loop Partners, are
investing heavily in infrastructure to change that. Dow also recently announced
a partnership with
to improve the collection of hard-to-recycle materials with the first major
residential plastic film recycling program in the US.
AL: Many companies are simply unaware of their options for recyclable
packaging. Often, we see brand owners working with packaging suppliers that only
present them with one solution when multiple, viable options exist. But if
brands don’t know about the possibilities, they can’t explore them.
Part of our work at Dow is spreading awareness about the latest advances and
opportunities in this field that can help brands advance toward their
sustainability goals. This is especially important with smaller brands that
don’t have the packaging engineers that larger consumer-packaged goods companies
have. They need to know that there are accessible technologies that can help
them make packaging recyclable. Dow’s Pack
designed to offer brands greater visibility and expertise into such technology.
We invite brand owners to bring their challenges to us, so we can use our
knowledge, tools and capabilities to help them design, test and develop more
sustainable packaging that meets their needs.
AL: One big challenge today is packaging for certain food products. Dow is
currently involved in strategic collaborations with brands and industry groups
looking specifically at meat and pet food packaging, two of the most challenging
areas to design for recyclability.
Meat is difficult because it must be kept fresh. If it goes bad before consumers
use it, the waste is significant. Food waste in general has a big carbon
footprint; but when it comes from animals, you must also factor in the feeding,
watering and processing of the animals that go to waste when food spoils.
Plastic is the best material for meeting all meat packaging criteria. It
provides a moisture and oxygen barrier for freshness, has the toughness to
withstand poking and prodding; and is clear, so consumers can see what they’re
buying. We are developing a mono-material polyethylene film — which is much
easier to recycle than traditional packaging that uses undesirable materials
like PVC — that checks all these boxes for meat packaging.
Pet food is similar. As more companies are producing human-grade pet food, the
packaging requirements are increasing in number and complexity to address with
sustainable materials. Developing solutions takes a lot of collaboration for
materials science companies like Dow to understand what exactly brands need from
their packaging. That’s why we’re part of the Pet Sustainability
Coalition — which connects us to around 50 pet
brands, big and small. So far, we’ve successfully developed stand-up pouches
with zippers for smaller pet food items, and we’re currently tackling the
challenge of large food bags. How can we design a recyclable material that can
hold 50 pounds of dog food and not split open when dropped? That’s one of our
AL: Often, we find that companies are using packaging equipment that is
designed to produce only non-recyclable packaging. There’s a bit of a learning
curve and some operational efficiencies that must be adjusted when learning how
to produce recyclable packaging. But it’s absolutely doable, and we’ve helped
make this happen with some of our higher-profile
— like the Bear
project. Companies just need to readjust the equipment a bit to those new films
that have slightly different mechanical properties from the older,
AL: Converting to sustainable packaging is a journey. Step one is to
perform a baseline assessment of your current packaging. You need to answer
questions like: What is your current volume of packaging consumption? What
materials are you using that might be detrimental to recycling? What percentage
of your current packaging is already recyclable/renewable/reusable? What are the
non-negotiable performance criteria for your packaging, like shelf life and
aesthetics? Having an up-to-date assessment of your current packaging portfolio
is the first step.
Then, step two is to set packaging goals. Maybe that’s using more recycled
content, eliminating unnecessary
making packaging more recyclable or reusable, etc. Once you’ve established
objectives, you can move on to step three, which is to identify some of the
easy-fix areas to start progressing toward those goals. You might be
overpackaging, for example, and can lightweight or right-size your packaging to
fit the product.
Step four is to join industry groups like the Sustainable Packaging
Coalition. The SPC helps companies network with other organizations working
toward similar goals, understand industry standards and definitions for
sustainable packaging, and identify new opportunities to make progress.
Brands can also reach out to the Dow Pack Studios location nearest
Published Nov 30, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.
Everyone has a role to play in creating a more sustainable world: Dow is taking action to address the full scale of challenges, collaborating with partners to improve the industry’s processes and through innovation to help communities become more sustainable.